Writers Who Need Writers

Thankful this morning for Michigan Sisters in Crime critique group. We met on Saturday at noon and by the time we left my battered confidence was in much more hopeful shape. It’s no secret the WIP, started about year ago, has been giving me fits. Finally, in the company of other writers, everything bugging me about my plot resolved itself. I see the full picture now. My confidence is high.

Writers need confidence to even start a story. It’s a pretty big deal to believe you can write a novel. I don’t mean those people who say “I’d like to write a novel, I have it all in my head, it’s a great story, I just don’t have time to do it.” That’s a false confidence that every writer who is actually producing finished manuscripts sees through immediately. Because writers find the time to write. Jobs, kids, cooking, cleaning…they do all that and write, too. Because they can’t NOT write. They must write.

At first, they scribble in secret. Thrilled but worried too. Is it any good? We are too close to our own words to really know the answer. In my 20s I started sending out my poems and short stories to little magazines. There were editors who liked and published them, other who didn’t bother replying, just stuffed my stamped self-addressed envelope (this was in the 1970s, so, no internet) and sent it back. I remember dreading the mail. Or, less often, smiling wide enough to break my face.

Soon enough, I found my first critique group. They were poets. Nobody had anything much good to say about my poems, but we had fun drinking at the bar afterward. And since they didn’t ignore my work or ruthlessly rip it to shreds, I kept going back. I liked the company of other writers, other people who did the thing I did. I’ve been in many groups since then, and published a bunch of novels (and a tiny chapbook of poems).

I have a publisher now and an excellent editor. But I still need my critique groups. Yes, groups. I have three: one in Florida and two in Michigan. The newest group is great because we all write mystery. Right away, we know the basic structure. There’s a murder early in, someone tries to solve the crime, the bad guy gets caught at the end.

Michigan Sisters in Crime is the best resource I’ve found since moving from poems and stories to romance novels and women’s fiction and now finally, landing in the world of mystery writers. Not only do MI-SinC have a critique group, they continually have events geared to mystery writers. Check out the workshop “Under the Trenchcoat: A Peek Into Private Investigation” on July 27. You don’t have to be a member to attend this event. But unless you’re a member, you might not hear about it.

As for the critique group, who I thank for my remarkable breakthrough over the weekend, it’s fabulous and free to all Mi-SinC members. We meet once a month and you don’t need to attend every session. If you’re a mystery writer living in Michigan, or want to become one, consider joining MiSinC. Our free critique group takes all levels of talent, from beginner to published. You’ll feel energized and motivated, case closed!

Join A Critique Group

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Calling all Michigan Mystery Writers! Michigan Sisters in Crime has started a new critique group. It’s for mystery writers, and you need to be a member to participate. We meet once a month for two hours at a restaurant in Troy close to I-75. There were four of us at the first meeting. We came from Ann Arbor, Lake Orion, Clarkston and Washington Twp. It was a great success.

Critique groups are great motivators. I’m on fire to write the best pages of my life for this group. Any member of Michigan Sisters in Crime is welcome to attend. You don’t have to be there for every meeting. Summer is busy time. Still, if you’re writing a mystery novel, even a short story, even if it’s your first one, the critique group is a free perk of membership.

The critique group was just one of the many ideas for our chapter cooked up by Super President and founder, Jan Rydzon. I used to teach creative writing, so I offered to help Jan with this group. My role will be to lead the newer writers or writers who are new to crime writing. We’ll talk about craft as well as critiquing pages. If there are enough newbies, we’ll form our own group so everyone gets a turn to share their work.

I am a member of the group too. I brought my first page in for critique just like everyone else. If I can pull it off, the feedback I received will take my opening from not terrible to great. I find first pages the most difficult. All that info to convey about the character plus hook the reader and set up the mystery in about 250 words. Not easy. But a critique group can help you find that extra bit of special to take your writing to the next level.

Contact me at cindy@cynthiaharrison.com if you are interested. Title your subject line MiSinC Critique Group. You want to write or make your writing better? Join us in July. If you’re not a member, it’s easy to join. We are open to all, not just women. Men too. We call them “Misters” 🙂 Not just experienced writers. Even if you have not yet written a word, you can join the chapter and the critique group. Just go to our website for details.

Until then, happy writing!

Love Problem

I was a criminal. I knew that. I knew the credit cards were stolen when I used them, but to me it was just business. And I was going about that business when she busted me. Buoyant with success, I left the upscale boutique thinking of the sweet looking salesgirl. The next time I saw her, (twenty or thirty minutes later, I don’t stop to check the time when I’m running for my life) she showed me her badge. FBI.

Damn.

Eventually we came to a mutual agreement: I would give up the specifics of my boss’s operation. I’d name names, testify under oath in a court of law. All this took time. I was not going into witness protection or anything, they just wanted me alive to testify, then I’d be free to relocate to a new place of my choosing. Meanwhile, she was my constant companion, at least during waking hours.

She brought my favorite foods and shared meals with me at the little table with two uncomfortable chairs that sat opposite the hotel room bed. We ran together every morning and lifted weights at her gym. We talked sometimes.

“You should have been an actor, the way you lie,” she said between bites of enchilada.

“You’re pretty good yourself,” I replied, trying not to preen at the compliment.

And it was a compliment. Some people lie for a living, and to make it, you have to be a damn good liar. You’ve got your actors and writers, who make up stories in the name of art. But undercover police like her lie and so do petty thieves like me. It almost goes without saying that politicians lie, even in their sleep.

She didn’t tell me much about herself, not at first, but little pieces came out: she trained at Quantico, her mother had cancer when she was a kid.

“I’m sorry,” I said. Thinking the mother had died, I put a hand on her shoulder, her skin damp from the sweaty summer day.

“You shouldn’t touch me,” she said. She didn’t move for a minute and neither did I, but finally she brushed my hand off her shoulder. “She’s been in remission for twenty years.”

“Good,” I said as I rolled the word “shouldn’t” around in my head. “Shouldn’t” is different than “Don’t.” While I contemplated that difference, she got up and left the room, her food half-eaten. I put everything into a trash bag and took it outside to a waste receptacle so the joint wouldn’t smell worse than usual. She was in her car, still keeping tabs. I waved. She didn’t return the gesture and her eyes were inscrutable behind sunglasses.

Back in my room, I watched shift change through a slit in the curtain. She left after dinner every night and another guy took her place. Ahead of me loomed another long night of trying to figure out when it had happened. When was the moment I’d fallen in love?